Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
WEDNESDAY 15 MAY 2002
60. You said there was 15 per cent flexibility
in the curriculum, and that you determine the content of what
should be taught. Your colleague also said earlier that the more
successful schools manage the curriculum well. That is not the
experience of teachers. I addressed a conference of ATL not long
ago, and they said that the curriculum is a straightjacket. That
is the view coming back from the coal-face. That does not accord
with what you were saying about your research, that people were
saying that the curriculum is okay and that you were encouraged
to continue doing what you were doing. There is a dichotomy there,
and I wondered if you would take us through that.
(Sir William Stubbs) I do not think I ever used the
phrase that things were okay, but I did say that
61. That is the impression I got.
(Sir William Stubbs) I hope you got the impression
that it was satisfactory. I was talking about the testing arrangement
at that point. When we turn to the curriculum, there is no doubt
that some teachers, and some schools, find it burdensome, but
the evidence of the day-to-day practice in many, many schools
that HMI have looked at is that it is an enriching experience
for young people. This was devised primarily for young people,
and it was devised secondly in order that parents could have confidence
in the education of young people, and that the nation in turn
could obtain its benefits from the education system. Teachers
are delivering that on our behalf, and are very, very important
in relation to that. It has not made life for some teachers any
easier, but many teachers have taken to it like a duck to water,
and many teachers contribute to and help us enormously in giving
advice to schools about how to make it more effective. Chris Jones
is very much our expert on the curriculum side and I will ask
him if he wants to add to that.
(Mr Jones) The fact that people, including teachers,
argue and have very strong views about the nature of the National
Curriculum and how much there is of it, et cetera, we are
in a sense at the centre of that debate, particularly as it comes
towards a point at which we are going to offer advice to the Secretary
of State to change or review it, or whatever. We have a huge postbag,
not just from teachers, but from parents, employers, and all sorts
of organisations, expressing their views. Our view is that that
is a measure of the health of the system. It is, in my view, a
healthy system, and we want to engage in discussion. Prior to
1988-89 we had no central specification of curriculum at all in
this country, and we were unique amongst countries that we would
naturally compare ourselves with. There was huge controversy at
the time it was introduced as to whether we should even take that
step. There are very few people now, including teachers, who would
put forward a serious argument to say we should not have any sort
of central specification. There will always be controversy about
how much there should be and the content. Our job is to keep our
ear closely to the ground and turn our minds to issues like what
should be in it, why, and how much. There are always differing
opinions. Over those ten or eleven years since we have had the
National Curriculum, we have moved from the position of having
nothing, (when people, including people like myself were involved
in the early stages of constructing it), to having something that
was hugely ambitious in terms of detail. I think the criticisms
about a straitjacket were entirely appropriate in the early 1990s,
but if you compare what we have now, there has been a major shift
towards flexibility, and there is much less prescription. There
is a debate, however, about the point at which taking the foot
off the pedal and giving more flexibility starts to interfere
with the fundamental purposes of having a framework in the first
place. There will always be a debate about whether there is too
much or too little. We now compare ourselves with the international
situation much more now than we did ten years ago. We are still
ambitious in terms of our scope, breadth and balance. Many countries
specify things in much more detail than we do, and there are some
that are more flexible. That will continue to be a debate. For
every teacher that says it is a straitjacket, you will find others
who privately will say, "it is very useful". Interestingly,
we have found that if we are in the least bit vague about what
we are expecting teachers to teach nationally, it can sometimes
be seen as being helpful, but as often as not it leads to problems.
If you leave the slightest amount of doubt about expectations
of teachers, then teachers being teachers will over-interpret
and will do more than was the intention, because they are conscientious
people and do a good job. We want to be as precise and as clear
as we can. It is not on the basis of what teachers want. Teachers
are a major input into this process, but it is a debate about
the National Curriculum which everybodyemployers, people
and organisations, in huge numberscontribute to.
62. Citizenship is being mooted, but how will
we make room for that? How will teachers make room for that?
(Sir William Stubbs) It is now statutory this year
in secondary schools, and it is advisory in primary schools. You
have already heard that we give advice on all subjects. We have
given a lot of advice to secondary schools on this. It is not
an additional subject entirely. It brings together under a collective
heading a number of matters that schools have been dealing with
anyway, and it gives a coherence to it. It is an encroachment
on to the area of freedom that schools had, but I do not hear
many voices saying that it is not a topic that schools should
be dealing with; indeed, there is an increasing number of voices
saying that it is coming just in time.
63. Did you cram more into the pint pot, as
it were, or did you push something off the curriculum?
(Sir William Stubbs) Nothing went off the curriculum
specifically to do with citizenship.
64. Did you push anything else out?
(Sir William Stubbs) We brought some subjects that
were elsewhere under the banner of citizenship, and some extra
within. Is your question whether when we reviewed it anything
(Sir William Stubbs) The last time it went out was
(Mr Jones) Probably the best way to answer that, Chairman,
is to say that whilst it is becoming statutory in secondary schools
in September, almost every secondary school has had, and continues
to have within its timetable, time set aside for a range of things
that have different labels, depending on the school. It is often
called something like personal/social/health education, and things
in that area, which were not covered by the National Curriculum
until the recent review in 2000. We have done a huge amount of
work since the review in terms of giving guidance on the very
issues that have been raised about where to fit it in. Many schools
are looking to re-engineer, re-establish the programme that they
are offering in that timetable slot, although, as Sir William
said, it is a subject that will not necessarily be taught through
specific timetabled lessons; it is something that we would expect
to influence other areas of the curriculum as well. Schools, in
a sense, had time set aside in that time that is their own, if
you use that crude division of the National Curriculum and things
that are specified by the school; and to some extent the citizenship,
National Curriculum, will have an influence on an area of the
curriculum that schools previously determined themselves.
66. How often do you give advice on the curriculum?
When we did the Early Years Report, you may remember that we were
very interested in the environment and using open space, especially
at the primary level. We found it very important that schools
should use the environment and that children should have access
to the environment, but not in a sloppy way, and to use it in
the educational process. Is that something that you would give
(Sir William Stubbs) We did give advice to that, which
has been very much welcomed. I think it has been the basis on
which the Secretary of State has felt able to create a statutory
foundation stage in schools. We give advice regularly on different
subjects, from year to year. We have given advice on citizenship.
(Mr Jones) In terms of advice about making changes
to the detail of the National Curriculum, there is a cycle to
that. It is not laid down anywhere, but the pattern that has been
established is that approximately every five years the Secretary
of State will probably think it is time to see whether there is
a need for change. That is within the Secretary of States's gift.
We work against a timetable which says we do not want to be changing
the goalposts every year, which would be quite intolerable and
the schools would not thank us for that; but every five or years
soand our monitoring programme is designed so that we are
absolutely familiar with the issues for schoolsto be in
a position to be able to offer advice with that kind of regularity.
At other times, we would pick out individual subjects and identify
issues about which we could make recommendations to the Secretary
of State. In terms of direct advice to schools, spreading good
practice and so on, we do that as part of our regular business.
For the last two years there has been a massive effort to move
from paper-based materials into web-based production of advice
for schools as to how to implement the curriculum, what the standards
are and the rest of it. Those are now used by almost every school.
67. It would be very useful to this Committee
if you could show us any evidence. We have produced a report on
early years; the Secretary of State came back to us on that, but
I wonder if from that date you have given any advice or taken
(Sir William Stubbs) We will take a look at that,
68. Does QCA believe that the curriculum is
sufficiently forward-looking and related to the schools' evolving
(Sir William Stubbs) I think we give sufficient scrutiny
to the environment within which young people are operating and
where they will be looking for careers, in order to inform themselves
about the content of subjects within the curriculum. The most
spectacular example of that is within the area of IT. That is
developing in the National Curriculum, not just as a subject on
its own, but cutting right through. That shows the flexibility.
We do work hard at making sure that the curriculum is relevant
to life outside school.
(Mr Weller) I wanted to make a connection between
the curriculum and the examination system. There is a piece of
work going on at the moment under the banner of Science in the
21st Century, which is exactly about that, to ensure that science
is not just about being up-to-date, but that it meets the range
of the whole population, those who will become scientists and
those who will not. We are looking into a pilot GCSE.
(Mr Jones) When we offer advice at a review, for example,
we know that for some of the things we pick up, the time will
not be right. At the last time of review, the Secretary of State
said that for three or four things we had picked up for possible
change the time was not right, and we had to do some development
work in those areas. We compile a list of areas where we are doing
exactly as Keith has said, and looking forward. Science is one
subject; creativity is another; and there is some interesting
work in the area of algebra and geometry in secondary schools
where we are looking at international work and looking forward
to the next ten or twenty years. There is a growing list of areas
where we are doing development work, which will not find its place
in the National Curriculum for some time; but we need to do that
work in preparation for offering advice in the future.
69. In terms of forensics, the one that most
people have been concerned with in recent weeks is the change
in foreign language teaching, taking it off compulsion at a later
level of the school curriculum. The Secretary of States wants
foreign language to be taught at primary level. Indeed, coming
out of the recent prime ministerial meeting in Barcelona, there
is commitment within that statement to two foreign languages being
taught at primary level. Is that down to you? Did you say to the
Secretary of State, "we do not think it should be compulsory
any more; you should introduce it at the lower level because that
is where our research shows the effort should be made"?
(Sir William Stubbs) When a government is led by a
Prime Minister who has said that education, education, education
is his policy, one must expect and welcome the fact that the Prime
Minister is taking an interest in what we are doing and will have
fresh thoughts and different thoughtsand Secretaries of
State likewise. What we are charged to do is to say to them, on
some thoughts: "Are these unreal?" Some of these are
on the verge of being very hard to deliver because of shortage
of teachers in that area. We then ask if they can be delivered,
and what is the best and most effective way of doing it. That
is what we do. In the meantime, prime ministers and others will
want to drive on and make the system what they see as being more
effective, and we listen very carefully to what they say.
70. Were you in favour of foreign language ceasing
to be compulsory in secondary schools?
(Sir William Stubbs) We gave advice to the Secretary
of State. I do not know whether that advice is in the public domain
(Mr Jones) There are proposals within the current
Green Paper about the constitution of the Key Stage 4 curriculum,
which is what we are talking about. Obviously, that is of major
interest to the Authority, and the Authority will be offering
a response to the Green Paper in the next week or so.
71. But this is a Select Committee of Parliament:
we are asking you whether you are in favour of non-compulsion.
(Sir William Stubbs) The proposals in the Green Paper
seemed to us to have considerable benefits associated with them.
72. You talk about having enough teachers, and
although we may be in favour of teaching foreign languages at
primary level, do you see a problem?
(Sir William Stubbs) We were talking about 14 to 18
and it becoming optional at Key Stage 4. The issue there is
73. This is the balance, is it not?
(Sir William Stubbs) Yes, it is, but Key Stage 4 is
rooted in a discussion about how to be more flexible with the
school curriculum and so forth. The one at primary is about how
to stimulate English young people's interest in modern language,
which is significantly different from elsewhere in Europe. To
some extent, that is curtailedand if you are talking about
two languages it is considerably curtailedby availability
of teachers. It is also surrounded by the very real practical
difficulties of secondary school having to receive primary school
pupils, from a network of primary schools, whose advocacy and
use and expertise in modern languages is unlikely to be of the
same level. How does a secondary school cope with that? These
are difficult pedagogical matters. If they can be overcomeand
it is more difficult if we are talking about two languagesthen
we will go forward, but we have not offered a view on that yet.
74. Sir William, this is interesting stuff and
really gets to the heart of the matter, does it not? Did you have
reservations about compulsory foreign language and did you articulate
those to the Secretary of State, who then puts it in the Green
Paper; or did you pick up the Green Paper and say, "wow,
that is surprising"?
(Sir William Stubbs) We give views to the Secretary
of State, Chairman, on a number of matters, some of which are
exhorting her to go faster in some respects than at the end of
the day she feels appropriate, and some of which are advising
her to go rather slower than she decides to doand that
should not surprise us and probably means we are getting it about
75. Did you advise the non-compulsory element
of foreign language? Was that your judgment, and did you say to
the Secretary of State, "I really think that this should
(Sir William Stubbs) I have not offered, personally,
any advice to the Secretary of State on languages; the Board did
not offer any formal advice on languages before the Secretary
of State brought forward a paper, although there were discussions
between civil servants and my colleagues; but the Board has offered
views on the Green Paper proposals after it was published.
76. Given the modularisation of the curriculum
at 16-19, as is generally now accepted, why has QCA not moved
to modularising the curriculum for 14-16, and would it not have
been more rational to do that first?
(Sir William Stubbs) Do you mean modularise the examination
77. Yes, using the curriculum 2000 model for
(Mr Weller) There are particular reasons that we alluded
to earlier for the unit-based approach to A-levels because it
allows the feedback and the stepping-off point at AS, half-way
through a non-compulsory part of education, and people can go
away with a qualification rather than going away with nothing.
That does not quite apply at Key Stage 4 because we are talking
about compulsory schooling, so the reasons would be different.
78. Do you think it could have helped to maintain
interest of those young people most at risk of dropping out of
the system or fading away from the system in the last 12 months,
had they been able to get a qualification at the end of year 10?
(Mr Weller) There is nothing to stop people going
faster or slower within GCSEs as the school can manage. One might
argue that that would have been an awful lot of change in a time
that was pretty well filled with change of various kinds anyway,
adapting to the new curriculum and adapting to post-16 structures
and so on. That would be asking an awful lot both of the exam
boards and the schools. The science pilot that I mentioned is
working on the concept that a core of science associated with
some options which would be of a modular kind, some of which might
be more academic and some of which might be more general, could
be quite useful in those terms, in allowing people to make choices
as to which science, giving the feedback and doing something to
relate to the vocational, or to the academic qualifications world.
79. If that model were implemented, would young
people be able to get part of their qualification part-way through
the course, or would they still have to wait until the end?
(Mr Weller) No, that is one of the options, and that
would be one of the models we implement.